Sunday, June 05, 2016

Harrisburg City Islanders – FC Cincinnati (07-05-2016)

Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania but only the tenth largest city of the state. As a consequence, it doesn’t have the big sports teams – Pittsburgh and Philadelphia do – and even its soccer team is a farm team, of the newest MLS franchise, New York City Football Club (NYCFC), itself a mere side project of Manchester City and the New York Yankees.

The Harrisburg City Islanders play in a stadium that is on an island in the Susquehanna river, which divides the city in two. Founded in 2003, the team plays in the United Soccer League (USL, Third Division). Its home ground is FNB Field, also known after its sponsor Metro Bank Park, a small, new baseball ground that hold just over 6,000 people, which is owned by the city and operated by the local Harrisburg Senators, farm team of the Washington Capitals.

I park in one of the huge parking lots close to the stadium ($5) and then walk over to the stadium, where I get a General Admission ticket for $15. There is a quiet and friendly atmosphere. I find it difficult to estimate the attendance, but knowing capacity is 6,000, I am absolutely certain that the official attendance of 2,204 is WAY OFF! I think it was closer to 500-600, almost all white, middle class, and many families with young children – the usual crowd at clubs with no real support base.

The first ball of the game is a wild kick that goes out of the pitch. The tone is set! A few minutes later a surprise shot by the hosts is saved by the goalkeeper. In the 7th minute a good, long attack by the visitors ends with no finish. Then it slows down even more…

The pitch doesn’t help, as it has various bad spots, largely because it is primarily used as a baseball field. The passing and “control” are exceptionally poor, particularly given the slow pace. It’s mostly low-risk passing and a high ball under pressure.

In the 17th minute a surprise through-ball reaches the Harrisburg striker, who, despite pressure from a defender, puts the ball cool past the goalie: 1-0. A few minutes later Cincinnati has a good attack, but it’s offside.

Now it’s getting quite dismal. The pace is incredibly slow and still the passes are bad, the control is bad, and people are offside. Harrisburg striker is defending deep in his own half and is then too tired to (counter) attack. In the 42nd minute Cincinnati has a good attack over the right, but then volley is just over. Half time score: 1-0 for the home team.

The first ten minutes of the second half is all FC Cincinnati. In the 56th minute City Islanders get their first decent chance, but it is offside.  At that point in time a steward comes to me to ask whether I am a journalist – as I am sitting in the “media section” (really just a long bench with some seats). I say “no, but I have a blog” and that seems to satisfy him.

The visitors remain dominant but don’t create too many real chances. In the 70th minute they produce a weak header at the goalie and in the 76th minute a weird attack with several half-chances leads to a shot at goal from 3 meters, which still doesn’t find the goal.

In the 80th minute a corner from FC Cincinnati is headed from close-up at the goalie and the rebound is a hard, low shot that goes through everyone: 1-1. Out of nowhere some 50 away fans stand up and cheer. Respect, as they made a 500 miles (800 km) trip from Cincinnati!

Both teams seem pretty happy with a draw and little happens in the last ten minutes. Only in extra time is there a deep cross from the right, which is volleyed by a Harrisburg player against the hand of a Cincinnati defender. No penalty is given. Final Score: 1-1.

This was a typical lower league game in the US: nice but soulless facilities, few real fans, and slow and uninspiring football. It is as if it also could have been a baseball game.

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